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Attorneys working at federal defender organizations (FDOs) represent financially eligible individuals in federal criminal prosecutions and related proceedings, both at the trial court level and on appeal. This report describes a statistically reliable system of case weights, based on the national averages of attorney hours expended in various types of cases, and examines issues related to factors, other than the type of case, that might affect the amount of resources necessary for providing an effective defense. It also asks whether employing case weights makes sense for evaluating and projecting FDO resource needs, what might be the best ways for calculating those weights, and what appeared to be the most-significant limitations on their application in this manner. It presents the main findings regarding a functional case-weighting system for FDOs, discusses the examination of factors that could influence attorney time expenditures, examines issues related to caseload projections, sets forth historical weighted caseload totals for the federal defender system, and makes recommendations for increasing the accuracy and functionality of any future case-weight update.

This research was sponsored by the Office of Defender Services of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts and was conducted in the Safety and Justice Program within RAND Infrastructure, Safety, and Environment.

This report is part of the RAND technical report series. RAND technical reports may include research findings on a specific topic that is limited in scope or intended for a narrow audience; present discussions of the methodology employed in research; provide literature reviews, survey instruments, modeling exercises, guidelines for practitioners and research professionals, and supporting documentation; or deliver preliminary findings. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure that they meet high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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